I'd like to welcome to my blog today Karen Walker, friend and author of Following the Whispers, a memoir. Not only is she a talented writer, but she opens her soul in a way that the reader feels they have gained a friend. I asked her to come here today to speak about not only memoir, but the importance of sharing our lives through our writing. The power of the personal. Even if you don;t write memoir sharing yourself in your work is the mark of a book that has the power to impact.
Tabitha asked me to write a guest post that speaks to the importance of personal stories and how they benefit the world of literacy. I’m not sure that can be done in a relatively short blog post, but what I can do is talk about the power in memoir – the power which comes from writing one, and the power which comes from reading a well-written one.
It took 10 years for me to write my memoir, Following the Whispers, but that included a four-year stint back in college to complete a degree I’d started in 1969. I took virtually all the writing classes the university offered, but I especially loved the Creative Nonfiction ones. One of my professors said that when you set out to write a memoir or a personal essay, you pose a question. The essay or memoir is that exploration and you may or may not end up with a neat, tidy answer.
In 1977 I lost custody of my 3 ½ year old son. Out of the despair and devastation resulting from that, a question arose deep from my soul: what was wrong with me that such a thing could happen to a white, middle class young woman? Answering that question began a soul-searching journey of healing which continues to this day.
I didn’t decide to write a memoir. It decided me. In 1994, shortly after moving to New Mexico from Portland, Oregon, I wrote a short essay about that journey which was published in an anthology of women’s stories called “Chocolate for a Woman’s Blessings,” published by Simon and Shuster. I received letters and emails from women all over thanking me for writing my story—it helped them with similar struggles. I began to think that if a two-page snippet of my journey could help, how much more beneficial would a full-length book be?
Writing the memoir was both agonizing and cathartic. When I stepped up to the podium at my book launch and held up my book, I felt as if I’d stepped into the person I’d been striving to become for the past 30 years. That is the power of memoir for the writer. And for the reader, well…we all have our issues we deal with on a daily basis, whether it’s having grown up in a dysfunctional family, being a victim of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse, compulsive disorders, whatever. There are universal themes that each and every one of us can relate to. A well-written memoir taps into those themes. As we read someone else’s story, we can perhaps connect the dots to our own. Writing helped me make sense of my life. It still does. Even though I’m writing a fiction piece for the first time, it is still helping me make sense of my world. If you write from your heart, it can’t help but be powerful.
Perhaps memoir has a bad rap because of well-publicized issues like James Frey fictionalizing part of his story and calling it memoir. I don’t know. What I do know is that reading memoirs have moved me along my journey of healing and writing my own took me to places I never thought I could go in terms of feeling good about who I am.
Thank you, Tabitha, for asking me to do this. It is an honor to write for your blog, because you are one person who always writes from her heart in such a beautiful way.
Thank you Karen. Writing, whether it is fiction or non-fiction helps us to make sense of our lives. And when we do that well we also offer readers the chance to do the same. Many blessings for your continued writing and thank you for your support and for the honesty of your memoir.
Find Karen here:
Her book FOLLOWING THE WHISPERS is available on her website and at amazon.com.
What about you? How do you use writing to share your soul?